Review: 'Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes' Is the Best, Most Important Cookbook You've Never Heard Of

August 23, 2012 6:06 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes
"Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes" is my favorite cookbook of all time. (Photo: Screenshot)

This cookbook holds a special place in my heart, even if it's all but completely disappeared from bookstore shelves. It's the cookbook that saw me making my first recipe, one for the Toffee Apple Trees from children's book legend Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when I was only six years old.

I didn't know it at the time, but it's also one of the only cookbooks I can think of that ignores flourishes of technical precision and high-minded restaurant replication, opting instead to encourage the imagination and whimsy necessary to go your own way in the kitchen one day.

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The book is Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes, a compendium of every single food item to appear in Dahl's oeuvre, written by the aforementioned man, his wife Felicity, and Josie Fison. It's illustrated by Quentin Blake, Dahl's lifelong collaborator whose unforgettable, modestly deranged illustrations of the B.F.G gagging on a Snozzcumber and Bruce Bogtrotter with his mouth full of chocolate cake will stick with me for the rest of my life.

If you're looking to cook elegantly balanced recipes with a sort of high culinary mindedness, this isn't the cookbook for you. But if you're looking for a cookbook written in the spirit of what compels so many ordinary people to put on an apron and boil some spaghetti, then this is the cookbook for you.

So many little glimpses of Roald Dahl's vivid imagination-- in particular, his wildly compelling use of the gustatory to paint a picture of both the enticing splendor (all the food in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and what that meant to a poor boy whose family had to save and save for a chocolate bar) and bewitching disgust (the pea soup in the The Witches)-- are here fleshed out into full-blooded recipes, rendered into reality from the page with the team's meticulous eye for detail. Jan Baldwin, the food photographer, combines her images with Blake's drawings to create an irresistible feat of mixed media whose earnestness belies the height of its achievement.

This book could have simply contained half-hearted attempts to recreate the food in Roald Dahl's world, and it would have satisfied his fans and collectors alike as a sort of curio, holding shelf space in some cozy corner of a kitchen library. That the many recipes in this book that I have tested also taste very, very good is nothing short of a miracle-- proof that, in spite of what Dahl may have claimed his intentions were in writing, a love for his world and his audience always prevailed in the end.

The book runs more sweet than savory, perhaps owing to the fact that most recipes come from Charlie's universe than any other. In fact, the more savory recipes were inspired by gross-out moments in Dahl's books; that said, they're here made to look gross in the spirit of Dahl's image, but taste great in the spirit of common decency.

My favorites? The Hair Toffee to Make Hair Grow on Bald Men is as delightful to make as it is to behold, as are the very simple Butterscotch and Peach Juice recipes from James and the Giant Peach-- although for a more difficult one from that book's universe, challenge yourself with Mosquitoes' Toes and Wampfish Roes Most Delicately Fried. The Eatable Marshmallow Pillows, the Candy Pencils You Can Eat in Class, and the Hot Ice Cream You Can Eat on Cold Days have the kind of whimsy to them that has placed many a dessert chef (Christina Tosi, for example) on the map. The Snozzcumbers and the Pea Soup are there, too.

But perhaps the shining achievement of the collection is the team's recipe for Lickable Wallpaper. It captures the moment that most of the young readers I know became very, very jealous of Charlie's lucky trip to that famous chocolate factory. That the recipe, albeit a lengthy one, is given here speaks to the frenzy of a world begging to be made real.

Anyone who's ever read a Dahl book or plans on reading a Dahl book to someone soon should buy this cookbook. If you've never read him, or you're not a fan, there's the distinct possibility that this cookbook will seem slight. But if the voice that calls you into the kitchen hasn't spoken to you in a while, or you just want to make Bruce Bogtrotter's Chocolate Cake so you can show Ms. Trunchbull that eating one by yourself is no punishment at all, then this is a necessary purchase. Click on through to Amazon here, where you can buy the book for nine bucks.

Even if you never plan on cooking from it, just reading it cover to cover is a joy. But if you do plan on cooking something, do yourself a favor and make the Stickjaw for Talkative Parents first. It's the perfect introduction to a world you may have forgotten.



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